Sunday, May 27, 2012

Spring Whimseys

At the end of spring semester, I always need to escape for a few days.  Last year, we went to Depoe Bay on the Oregon Coast.  Last week, we stayed in Canmore for three days, a short, five hour drive from where we live.  Canmore, Alberta, is located about two miles south of Banff National Park and was the location for the 1988 Winter Olympics.  I love being in the Canadian Rockies because the mountains are so majestic and so filled with wonder that the weight of responsibility falls from my shoulders, as if in a sacred place, and I feel like I am home.  It has become a regular place to visit, to get out of Dodge once in a while, and to lose myself in such overwhelming beauty.

The drive is always amazing.  Highway 95 takes us to the border at Eastport and then, for almost an hour, we travel through a narrow canyon which cuts off all phone service making one feel alone, on a beautiful drive through forest, rocky canyon walls, past Moyie Lake, and into the flats of Cranbrook. Traveling through in the early morning and in the evening a driver must be careful about the wildlife on the highway. Elk abound here.  Our next stop is in Cranbrook where I use my ATM card for some Canadian money, and then promptly spend some of it on a latté.  From Cranbrook we continue traveling north through some very historic territory.  This is the trail used by David Thompson and the fur traders in their final passage through the Canadian Rockies and south into the United States.  The town of Canal Flats is  interesting historically and geographically because the Kootenay River flows in a southern direction just east of the town.  And about 1.2 miles north of Canal Flats, at Columbia Lake, are the headwaters of the Columbia River, which flow north before changing direction, heading south into the U.S., and then flowing westward to the Pacific.  After passing the lake, we then travel past Windermere Lake, and between the towns of Windermere and Invermere David Thompson, in 1807, had Jaco Finlay build Kootanae House, a trading post for the North West Company.
As an aside, note the different spellings of Kootenay, which is the spelling used in Canada.  In the U.S. we spell it Kootenai.  In both places we find the spelling Kutenai.  But historically, this name for the Ktunaxa peoples, exists in many forms, e.g., Cootenae, Cutenai, and so forth.

We stopped in Invermere to check out the local bakery but we think it has new owners because the breads are just not as good as they were.  From Invermere it's just a quick 15-20 minute drive in to Radium Hot Springs and already, this year, road signs tell us that the Big Horn Mountain Sheep are out and about.  Sometimes they congregate in the middle of Highway 95 as it goes through Radium, creating, of course, interesting traffic jams.  We found them, still in their winter coats, just past the Hot Springs at Radium, located in Kootenay National Park.  About two miles past the sheep, we stopped to watch a black bear, about one year old, feeding on vegetation on the other side of the road.  I tried to take a photo but didn't want to stop too long on the highway, nor get out of the car so close to the bear, so, needless to say, I lost the photo.  From the Kootenay National Park we traveled into Banff National Park.  Melting snow filled the rivers and streams, turning them into an endless, emerald-green water chain.  Snow still capped the mountains but the sun shown brightly.  What a magnificent drive!  And then we were there, in Canmore, with a room and a view that lifted our eyes upwards to the peak of one of those majestic mountains. 

It is unfortunate that I cannot bring this beautiful drive to life with photos because I took some, but my camera's shutter died in Kananaskis Country halfway through our short respite.  I did manage to save a few photos of the Rocky Mountain sheep, including one who really had his eye on me.

Rocky Mountain Sheep
So there it is, a story without photos and, even worse, no camera for food photos.  However, I did check out a few websites of some of my favorite food places in Canmore so here it goes. I love some of the great restaurants in Banff, especially Le Beaujolais.  I love to have a cocktail in the bar in the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel because the seating opens into windows with incredible views of the mountains and valleys in this part of Banff National Park.  The hotel is one of the original Victorian style hotels built by the Canadian Railway to attract travelers to the trains that traversed the country.  I took my best friend to Banff when she visited from Tucson, AZ, and we really enjoyed the ambiance, as well as the food, at Ticino, and even though we lingered for hours, we never felt unwelcome or intrusive.  I have not yet tried Eden, the AAA Five Diamond Award Restaurant because $200 dinners are just not within my budget, but it certainly looks good! However, I can recommend some really good innovative and inexpensive food at several locations in Canmore.

One of my favorite places is Valbella.  It has incredible house-cured meats (the Black Forest Ham is to die for), some excellent charcuterie like sausages, patés (wild boar paté), smoked meats, salamis, and so forth.  I also like to visit the Railway Deli.  Two Austrian brothers, who once worked at Valbella, opened their own deli and restaurant, and the food is similar to Valbella but with more of the Tyrolean influence from the town they came from.  I think I had one of the best lamb burgers ever at Sage Bistro and although I consider french fries, or, pommes frites, as an ultimate junk food in which I rarely indulge, I ate an entire order of the sweet potato pommes frites which I dipped into the red pepper aioli.  I truly earned the title of "piggy" after that feast.   Other places in Canmore suit me as well, like the incredible views at the Iron Goat Pub.  Finally, like all good meals, my favorite dessert is not one on a menu, but the unique chocolate creations at Le Chocolatier.  Several years ago, I discovered their absolutely delicious Belgian chocolate bars, and on this latest trip they had, and I bought, a bite-size, dark chocolate cup filled with salted, lighter chocolate.  I also indulged in an amazing cognac chocolate, a hazelnut-cream filled dark chocolate, and the list goes on.

On this past trip we stayed primarily in Canmore, with a day's trip through the Bow Valley and into Kananaskis Country.  Other times we have driven to Lake Louise, and even on to Jaspar.  We've explored the canyons off of Hwy. 95, stopped to view some lakes, hiked along trails, and, of course, watched some of the wildlife.  On this trip I thought about visiting Rocky Mountain House, another David Thompson historical site, but we weren't staying long enough for that extra trip.  It's located outside the National Parks, north of Canmore and west of Red Deer.  I'll save that for another time.  Instead, I rested, took it easy, and arrived home with a happy heart.

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